Career in Your Suitcase
A practical guide to creating meaningful work... anywhere

Working for Yourself

This is a preview to the chapter Working for Yourself from the book Career in Your Suitcase by Jo Parfitt.
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Starting Your Own Thing

Working for yourself is an excellent way to live out your portable career. If you know you’re likely to be on the move again fairly shortly, and that no business you choose is worth the investment it would take to make it a big success in one location, then maybe you should think about starting a more modest concern. One that will preserve your sanity and your professional identity and also give you the flexibility you need. Think about starting small and growing the business organically, sharing costs, bartering skills and making your venture work for you. A venture that grows organically will often feel ‘effortless’ as you move from serendipity to serendipity.

Many expatriate wives lose their identity and self-confidence when they go round the world. Many [women] lose the same when they have children. But for the trailing spouse they often have both of these to contend with. I have never suffered from this because I have always known that I could do something for myself, however small.

Pauline, British in Norway,


While it seems a bit of an oxymoron when starting your own thing, you will definitely want to find ways to collaborate. The owner of a small business, especially a home- based one or a consulting practice, can feel very isolated. There are no more coffee breaks or lunches in the company cafeteria with ‘the gang’. The consultant can go from project to project, never developing close or lasting relationships. One antidote to this is to join a breakfast group or other support group for small business owners or consultants, a local networking group, or a forum or trade association. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce to learn about local entrepreneurial networking groups. These types of networks can empathise with and understand your problems and concerns in a way your clients and even your family can’t. You may also be able to participate in forums and chat groups on the Internet. These might not provide the face-to-face contact you crave, but they have the advantage of being instantly accessible at almost any hour of the day. You could even start your own breakfast club or online forum. A mastermind group will allow you to ask each other for ideas and solutions. Joining a virtual network, such as Ecademy ( offers this kind of benefit and with hundreds of thousands of members all over the world and countless forums it is a boon to the sole trader. Their Blackstar membership offers the benefits of a mastermind group too.

Business owners and consultants also often work in isolation and complain about a lack of feedback. If you have created an informal support team, success team or as we call it Blue Sky Team you will always have a source of ideas, advice and feedback. If you move frequently, as I (Jo) do, then one of the hardest things about running your own business will be that you have to keep starting again in a new place, and you have to do so alone. It can be really tough finding the motivation to keep going and to make things happen when you are uprooted for the umpteenth time.

I (Colleen) have collaborated in developing and co-facilitating workshops with other freelancers many times over the course of my career. I find it’s a natural way to develop my network and share resources for mutual benefit. It makes my work more enjoyable as well. During the last 25 years I (Jo) have also partnered with many others on a project-by-project basis. In Dubai, when I worked at the recruitment agency, running a computer training department, having an alliance with the agency was mutually beneficial. As their clients became my clients, mine became theirs. I have run workshops jointly with others. This has many benefits. Not only does it mean we share the work and the preparation time, but while we market to our network, the co-trainer markets to hers, and in this way we double our potential client base. Of course, it means we share the income too, but in our opinion the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. The partnership represented by the book you are now reading is another example of how we have used this model of ‘effortless entrepreneurship’ again.

Here are some ways to allow effortless entrepreneurship to happen for you:

Find associates

If you know people who do the same kind of work as you, consider making them ‘associates’. Without the bureaucracy that comes with hiring staff, you can pass some of it over to a trusted third party. You can even profile them on your website. This will enable you to take on a greater volume of work without the risk of being overwhelmed by more than you can handle. Clients will be happy with the final product or service as long as you guarantee a uniform high quality.

In the past I (Jo) have worked with associates and used a finder’s fee/commission arrangement. In this way, if my associate passes business to me, I pay her 15% of what I earn and vice versa.

I (Colleen) have used this approach in an informal way, collaborating with other likeminded professionals to provide workshops and services. I believe in the principle of abundance - the more we share the more there is for everyone. This belief allows me to turn the ‘competition’ into potential associates if there is a values and vision fit. Two advantages of forming associations like this are that your business will appear larger than it actually is, and you may be able to find ways to share marketing and publicity costs with others.

When I (Jo) returned to the UK in 1997 I wanted to find work as a bit of an expat expert, helping people solve their career problems. But, back home, I was no longer in the ‘expat bubble’ and felt isolated and unknown. So, I decided to form a group called Words That Work and invited fellow expat experts to pay me a very small fee, I think it was £50, to form a group of six of us and share a brochure, website and letterhead. I made no profit from this idea, but what I did receive was a place in a glossy brochure and the knowledge that when my associates handed out the brochure they would also be promoting me.

Join an established company as a freelancer

If you don’t want to tackle the paperwork that goes with forming your own company, seek out an established organisation to which you can make a contribution, and determine its willingness to provide you with a work permit or visa. Sometimes you may have to pay them for this service, but the fee will often be less than you would pay to start up a business and obtain your own permits and premises, as is the prerequisite in some countries. Often a deal like this will also provide you with an office address and even a desk.

When I (Jo) was in the Middle East, I formed this sort of arrangement with a recruitment agency. I provided them with a computer training department and curriculum vitae writing service which they branded as their own. In return, I used their office and advertised under their name. I paid them a percentage of my earnings and the arrangement was profitable for both parties.

I (Colleen) have a similar arrangement in the Netherlands with an education management consultancy. I choose to operate from a position of abundance and the belief that there is enough for everyone. This has helped me find more ‘pieces’ of work that have added up to a complete work scenario for a portable and flexible career. See your competition as potential collaborators and a world of opportunities will open up to you.

‘It is hard to work legally in Oman without a local sponsor. It is illegal to advertise or knowingly make money without one. When I was offered the chance to do some food hygiene training for a local company I knew I needed to be legally able to work. So, I approached the British Council, knowing that training is one of their objectives and asked them for their sponsorship as a consultant. We agreed that I would make myself available to any of their clients and they would organise my work visa. I did pay them an annual fee but it was worth it. Where there is a will there is a way.’

Sue V, British in Oman,

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